The Lonely Doll, Dare Wright
As for The Lonely Doll’s mood, it can be as grey or as dark as the tones of it’s black-and-white images. Edith’s world is a far cry from a Barbi-glass-half-full one. In a 2006 Boston Globe interview, Wright’s biographer, Jean Nathan, sums up how The Lonely Doll gained such popularity :
Before Wright got behind her Rolleiflex camera as a magazine, freelance photographer, she was modeling in front of one. Later, in creating her first book, Wright transformed her childhood doll into the model as she took on the part of photographer. Wright converted Edith from brunette to blonde and styled her as a young version of Wright’s adult self. Yet, Wright’s own model looks did not ensure happiness. Nathan’s,The Secret Life Of The Lonely Doll: The Search For Dare Wright (2004,) painstakingly documents her psychological baggage. Wright, a lonely girl herself, suffered parental and sibling separation. As a child, she was forced by her mother to live the lie that she had no father or brother—that Edie, was a widow and not a divorcée—and that Wright was her only child. Her mother Edie was a successful painter of aristocrats and statesmen, which, probably, helped develop Wright’s artistic eye. But the way Edie controlled the rest of her daughter's life stunted her maturation. As a result, Wright battled bulimia, anorexia, and later alcoholism. She showed little qualms about being nude in a photograph or on a beach, but when Wright's relationships reached the point of physical intimacy, she ran—sometimes literally. Though Wright was known to be charming, flirtatious, and often courted by men, she’s said to have remained a virgin almost till the end. Late in life, in a tragic turn, she was raped by one of the many Central Park drifters she often brought home for drinks and conversation.
The Secret Life well documents Wright’s main strength—her creative vision; she sewed and designed most of her characters’ clothes, styled their hair, applied the makeup, created its sets, photographed the images, and developed them all in her NYC apartment. For those curious, Nathan assured me everything known about Wright’s photography was included in her book. The only question remaining is what should become of the photographs today? Do we toss the doll out with the bathwater and never again open the books? With regard to children, it’s for those who guide them to decide whether to share them or not. But adults, one hopes, will continue to indulge in Wright’s art as part of her life's story. For us, it seems safe to do so without fear of succumbing to its many obvious flaws.
Hear an interview with Jean Nathan.
Three Lonely Doll books were re-issued in 2004. The rest can be found through second-hand dealers.